Album Review by Paul Liberatore, Published in The Marin Independent Journal
It’s hard to imagine a better debut than San Geronimo’s ‘Better Days’
One of the longest-running resident bands at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads, the rock quartet San Geronimo has been able to use this prestigious gig to spend the past 2-½ years honing its sound and workshopping the empathetic and imaginative country rock songs on its long-awaited debut album, “Better Days.”
This impressive premiere shows the patience and care that went into an album of story songs by lead singers Jeremy D’Antonio and Darren Nelson that delve into the fears and frustrations of lonely men and women trying to make their way in what the title tune calls “a world that is mean.”
“Carolina” is a plea for a departed lover to come back, and “Big Ol’ Bird” is bout the vehicle the singer hopes will bring her there. “Josey” tells the tale of a young woman from a “cold and lonely” house doomed, apparently, to wander the world aimlessly. And “Bad Luck Johnny” follows a jailbird who breaks out to lick his wounds on the Rio Grande. It’s kind of a hard-charging, dark Americana take on a Marty Robbins-inspired border ballad.
This album boasts the requisite country barroom lament in “Heaven Knows,” a weeper that pleads for “something to believe in” because “heaven knows I can use a break.”
This album’s mood of sad resignation is leavened mightily by an extraordinary song simply titled “Soul,” a career-making track with a powerhouse arrangement, Jerry Garcia-inspired lead guitar lines and an irrepressible sing-along hook. Listening to it, you can visualize Deadheads spinning and twirling to a tune that could very well become this emerging band’s breakthrough anthem.
Same with “California Gold,” another catchy number that references life on the North Coast, advising anyone coming to the Golden State to “hang on tight it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”
Formed in 2014 in the merger of lead singers from the bands Tiny Television and Honey Dust, San Geronimo has built a muscular Americana sound on the strength of D’Antonio and Nelson’s vocals and guitar work, Dave Zirbel’s plaintive pedal steel and Danny Luehring’s diamond hard, unyielding drums and percussion. “Better Days” was recorded at new Allegiant Studios in San Anselmo.
As this first album’s title suggests, there may be better days ahead for San Geronimo. But it’s doubtful that any band could come up with a better first album than this one.